There’s having a successful business. And then there’s building a brand so powerful that it gains a cult following. The difference lies in the voracity of your customers—are they engaged, and will they keep your profits up regardless of a volatile market? A cult brand is able to stoke powerful emotions in its followers, drawing them in with purpose. They don’t purchase out of necessity. They follow along, spend, and share your gospel because they want to be a part of your community. They feel that your brand values, whatever they may be, represent who they are.
We’re all familiar with large-scale examples of cult brands, like Nike, Starbucks, and Apple. While they have ample resources to solidify a loyal customer base, you don’t need to be a billion-dollar company to pull it off. Let’s take a look at how others are doing it.
Brands that do frequent product drops.
Launching new products often is great, but also runs the risk of creating buyer fatigue. If you have the opportunity, invest in collaborations with other companies that have a zealous customer base.
Colourpop, a Los Angeles-based makeup brand, frequently teams up with others to drop new products. Makeup sounds like it has endless product opportunities, but there are only so many colors—eventually, products feel interchangeable and lose their novelty. To combat this, Colourpop does frequent releases with brands that have their own cult following. Some have seamless crossovers, like Barbie and Disney. Others don’t—like Dunkin Donuts. But it works, because they’ve mastered active listening. They know how to tap into the cultural zeitgeist and give customers an opportunity to own a moment in time.
What else is your target audience interested in, outside of just your industry? If you’re a clean beauty business, your customer base is likely also interested in fitness and organic cooking. Team up with other brands to create mutually beneficial product drops, contests, or bundles.
Brands that are still in infancy.
If you’re starting from scratch, take heart—you can build a cult following with a green brand. A relative newcomer on the fashion scene, Selkie, took whimsical silhouettes and elevated them to viral fame quickly. They launch new products only a few times a year—small capsule collections, each with a unique story.
Playing to their strength of being small, they have created a loyal sense of community and anticipation. Each new collection launch is supplemented with ancillary ways to engage—curated playlists, recipes and books to read, and movies to watch. Every collection feels like stepping into a portal to another world. They work with micro-influencers to create online communities, including Facebook groups dedicated to discussing the brand. The founder, Kim Gordon, goes on Instagram live to answer questions and give sneak peeks of new fabrics and styles. The feeling of one-to-one communication with the brand builds relationships and, as a result, a devout customer base.
If you’re starting fresh with a limited budget, you have to think outside the lines. Go beyond the products to tell the whole story of your brand. If your brand is a person, what are they reading? Listening to? What do they do for fun? Tell that story to your audience through email marketing and social media. Give your audience the opportunity to relate to you in a human way. When you build kinship, you establish lifelong followers.
Brands with history.
Like anything, a long-standing business has to withstand peaks and valleys, but having a long history doesn’t necessarily spell popularity. People have short attention spans. And part of being a good marketer means thinking ahead: you can’t rely on a single generation as your sole customer base. The world turns, and we need to look ahead at who our next audience will be, and what they want.
Betsey Johnson is a great example of a seasoned brand with a stellar comeback. A cultural staple in the early aughts, they filed for bankruptcy in 2012. But when y2k fashion came back into season, they grabbed hold of the opportunity for redemption. New products were created in reference to their classic staples—a nod to their history, with a fresh perspective. That history, through all the highs and lows, cemented them as a true authority in early 2000s fashion. Elder millennials are buying to recapture a moment in time. Zoomers are buying because it’s trendy, and they trust a label that has actually been there, done that. When faced with disaster, Betsey Johnson did not go gentle into that good night. They tapped into what they’ve done right and put themselves right back at the top.
If your business has a surplus of 20 years on the scene, you need to make waves to catapult yourself back to the front page of culture. The millennials and zoomers are high on nostalgia and looking for their next fix. Take a look at what you did in the past, and see if it can be reworked for today. Not only will you tap into what’s trending, but you’ll also reestablish your brand as a leader. You were paving the way then, and you’re still the guiding light now.
Ultimately, the more people relate to your brand, the more ardent they become. Be human. Share your ethos. Tell a story, and share it through as many mediums as possible. Email marketing and social media are great testing grounds, because they cost almost nothing and provide real data on engagement. Start broad, and whittle down your process or tone until you find that niche audience that will follow you into the sunset. Once you find that group, listen with everything you’ve got. If you can make them feel included, you’ve got a customer for life.